NBA Tier 2: Perennial all-star-level small forwards
5) DeMar DeRozan-Chicago Bulls
4) Kawhi Leonard-LA Clippers
3) Jimmy Butler-Miami Heat
2) Jayson Tatum-Boston Celtics
Tatum was an MVP candidate last season after helping lead the Celtics to the second-best record in the NBA and the East Finals. Few doubt his talent, especially after averaging 28 points last season, but he and the Celtics ran into the eighth-seeded Heat, which outplayed them. Some of that falls on Tatum, who wasn’t quite as good as he needed to be. Still, he is definitely a top-three small forward in the NBA.
At this point, it’s getting increasingly hard to keep Jimmy Butler out of the conversation for the top 10 players in the NBA. After all, few Hall of Famers, let alone active stars, have led a team to three Conference Finals in four seasons and two NBA Finals. That certainly sets him apart, and even though he just turned 34, few doubt his ability to turn it on when it matters most.
By now, everyone knows the story of Kawhi Leonard. When he’s healthy, he’s a superstar, but he is more often than not stuck in street clothes. That has significantly limited his value, and the LA Clippers ceiling as a title contender. On the plus side, he may try to play more this season, but that is barring another injury setback. If he can play around 65 to 70 games, he could be a top-tier small forward, but that may be a high bar to clear.
DeRozan, unsurprisingly, makes an appearance in Tier 2. The 34-year-old has aged well, largely thanks to his reliance on footwork and skill rather than sheer athleticism. He is never going to be a 3PT shooter (or a good defender), but he is still very good at utilizing screens to set up his mid-range jumper. He can also still finish the paint. Sticking to his strengths on offense continues to work for DeRozan, and he ranks as a top-5 small forward as a result.